What’s on the ACT Math Test?

Taking the ACT Math Test Soon?

Katherine Johnson, the mathematician who calculated the exact flight trajectories which allowed Apollo
11 to land on the moon and return to Earth, once said that “there will always, always be mathematics.”
Whether we realize it or not, math is an integral part of our lives. Math allows bakers to recreate perfect
cake recipes, engineers to build aircrafts that allow intercontinental travel, and parents to build the ideal
budget for a family trip to Disney World. Our modern day lives would be impossible without math. So if
math is so important, then why do so many people dread math tests like the ACT? The good news is that
it doesn’t have to be a subject to fear! With proper preparation and a positive mindset, math can easily
become a subject that you excel in. The first step in preparation is learning what to expect from a test. In
this article, we will review the content you can expect to see on the ACT math section so that you can
feel prepared to fearlessly conquer the test.

Format and Expectations

The ACT math section is comprised of 60 questions and has a time limit of 60 minutes. Students are
tested on math topics that have typically been covered by the beginning of a student’s 12th grade year. A
formula sheet is not provided, but the formulas required are all things you should have seen in your high
school math classes. The questions on the ACT math are multiple choice with five answer choices. The
majority of questions are stand-alone, but there are also some questions that are presented in a series
relating to the same topic. A calculator can be used on the test, although all problems can be solved
without one. However, not all calculator types are allowed, and use of a prohibited calculator will result
in test dismissal. So, it is very important that you review the ACT Calculator Policy prior to your test date.
This policy clearly outlines which calculators are permitted and which calculators are prohibited.

Focus Areas

There are a variety of subjects tested on the ACT math. While this list is not all-inclusive, it should
provide a solid baseline for what types of subjects you can expect to encounter while taking the test.
The subjects build on each other, so you can expect some overlap between focus areas.

● Numbers

o Real and complex number systems
o Integers
o Average, median, and mode
o Exponents
o Order of operations
o Place value
o Square roots
o Scientific notation
o Vectors
o Matrices
o Ratios
o Percentages
o Absolute value
o Sequential ordering

● Algebra

o Linear equations
o Polynomial equations
o Radical relationships
o Exponential relationships
o Systems of equations
o Using variables to express functional relationships
o Solving quadratic equations with factoring and the quadratic formula
o Rational and radical algebraic expressions
o Absolute value equations
o Inequalities
o Sequences and series
o Equations involving matrices
o Polynomial factoring

● Functions

o Function notation
o Function manipulation
o Linear functions
o Radical functions
o Piecewise functions
o Polynomial functions
o Logarithmic functions
o Function translation
o Graphical applications

● Geometry and Trigonometry

o Graphing points, lines, polynomials, circles, curves, and inequalities
o Parallel and perpendicular lines
o Distance Formula

o Midpoints
o Supplementary and complementary angles
o Shape properties (Perimeter, circumference, volume, etc.)
o Transformations
o Proofs
o 3D Geometry
o Right triangles
o Trigonometric functions
o Graphing trigonometric functions
o Trigonometric identities

Statistics and Probability

o Standard Deviation
o Data collection methods
o Modeling relationships
o Probability

Integrating Math Skills

While many questions only test knowledge of one topic at a time, the ACT math also tests on the
integration of several topics. You will solve complex problems that require you to combine skills in
chains of steps. You will additionally be required to identify connections between topics and equations
in order to complete problems. Additionally, you must learn to apply your skills in multiple contexts. For
example, a question may simply ask for the radius of a circle, but you must use your knowledge of
triangles to perform the calculations. Therefore, it is important to always prepare to “think outside the
box” on the ACT math as problems often require a more complex approach.

Modeling

The ACT math also tests on the ability to use and understand models. This skill is superimposed on the
focus areas we have already discussed. It is important that you are able to create, analyze, and improve
models related to the information given in problems. You should familiarize yourself with how “real
world” scenarios are modeled in mathematical form. Expect to see concepts illustrated in diagrams,
tables, shapes, etc. There are endless possibilities of how modeling questions may appear on the test, so
it is important to expose yourself to as many question types as possible prior to taking the ACT.

How Should I Study?

Now that you have a better grasp on the ACT Math content, you may be wondering how to best prepare
for taking the test. As mentioned before, there is no formula sheet provided during the ACT. Therefore,
it is important to learn and memorize key concepts and formulas. Below is a list of the most commonly
used formulas.


While the above list is not all-inclusive, it should provide you with a solid starting point for the ACT
math. In addition to formulas, it is important that you begin reviewing as many question styles as
possible and practice using your problem solving skills. This can be done through practice tests and prep
programs like Testive.

Final Thoughts

Katherine Johnson knew the importance of math, and she also pointed out one of its best traits. She
once said, “In math, you’re either right or you’re wrong.” The beauty of math is that there is only ever
one right answer. While other sections of the ACT require you to select the “best” or “most correct”
answers, math only requires that you identify the single correct answer. So as long as you are
comfortable with the question styles and practice diligently, there is no reason you can’t achieve your
goal score for the ACT math section. However, a little more help can go a long way! We recommend that
you schedule a test prep consultation with one of Testive’s Student Success Advisors to discuss your
college plans and test prep needs. We would love to help you reach your goals!

For extra practice, sign up for a free online practice test:

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By |2020-04-29T13:45:12+00:00April 24th, 2020|ACT, Uncategorized|

About the Author:

Whitney Bono is a chemical engineer, proud graduate of the University of Alabama, and test prep coach with over five years of experience helping students reach their goals on the SAT and ACT. When she’s not working with students you’ll find her running or reading a good book on one of the gulf coast’s beautiful beaches.